Grief’s not the most appealing subject matter, but don’t let that stop you watching, says Yosra Osman.
While the excellent La La Land dances and dazzles its way across cinema screens, it might be easy to overlook the melancholic-looking Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan and starring Casey Affleck.
This raw, sorrowful take on grief and its heartbreaking effects may be too much for some, but it is captivatingly and thoughtfully told, offering an absorbing experience that makes it a rather subdued, though impressively cinematic, tour de force.
Affleck stars as Lee Chandler, a Boston-based janitor who must return to his old hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea after hearing the tragic news that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died. He returns to hear he has been unexpectedly named as the sole guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), and as he tries to deal with this new responsibility, he finds that he must also face the harsh memories of his past.
OK, so ‘grim’ would be an understandable description to deduct from such a synopsis, and you would be forgiven for thinking Lonergan’s film might just be too dismal. Yet, although the themes dealt with in Manchester by the Sea are stark and harrowing, nothing feels too forced or manipulative.
Lonergan employs a pace and tone that throws you into the world of its main characters, but doesn’t quite drown you in sadness. There’s even a surprising amount of humour throughout the film, which cleverly adds to its feeling of realism. The horrors and sorrows are mixed with the normalities of everyday life, sometimes banal, sometimes amusing, all very real.
It goes without saying that Manchester by the Sea is brilliantly acted. Affleck gives a fantastic performance as Chandler, capturing vulnerability and volatility with every single movement and every single word – it’s an example of method acting at its finest. He is supported by a great cast, not least of all Hedges as the troubled, but forward-looking teenager Patrick, and Michelle Williams as his ex-wife Randi.
There’s one scene in particular between Affleck and Williams that pretty much encapsulates the strength of the entire film: a scene in which a multitude of emotions are portrayed without much being said at all.
Manchester by the Sea can be described as a slow-burner; Lonergan’s approach is straightforward and meticulous, but it is also completely mesmerising. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but anyone who wishes to take a chance on the darker themes may just find one of their films of the year.
If not, you can always just see La La Land afterwards.
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Yosra Osman is a mid-twenties film fan and self-confessed daydreamer of dangerous proportions